My first steps in learning Dutch

Living in the Netherlands has its advantages; the majority of the population speaking English at a high level is definitely one of them! However, even if you spend 95% of your time speaking English because you’re surrounded by internationals and well-spoken Dutchies, there are several reasons why you should learn the language. If you’re considering learning Dutch, this personal review of a foreigner taking the first steps is a must-read!

Pick a course

First of all, if you think you can just learn Dutch on the go, you are mistaken (unless you’re a language prodigy who picks up new vocab like a Dutchie picks up hagelslag for their morning sandwich). Sure, you can learn a good few words from your local friends or from the media, but Dutch grammar is complex enough to make your head spin if you don’t have a teacher by your side to help you through the difficulties. Luckily, ESN offers amazing courses for beginners at a very reasonable price. So if you feel like hanging out with your besties while learning a new language, sign up together! If you’re looking for something a bit more structured, Babel has a wide range of course offerings depending on your current level. There are several other agencies and private tutors who provide courses (even online), and there’s always apps like Duolingo to give you a kick-start!


It all depends on where you come from

If you have any experience in learning languages (and, let’s face it, most of you do), you know that your native tongue makes a huge difference. You’ll know what I mean if you compare a Spanish speaker trying to learn Portuguese and a Vietnamese native trying to learn German. Even though my mother tongue Hungarian isn’t related to Dutch (or, frankly, hardly any other language), I am fortunate since I speak German which definitely helps in understanding and learning Dutch. If you speak any Germanic languages, you’re in luck as you will most likely have an easier time getting familiar with Dutch. If not, don’t be discouraged; plenty of people from all over the world have come here and mastered the language!

The pronunciation

Although Dutch is rather similar to German, its pronunciation might deviate from it. For natives of a Romanic language like Spanish or Italian, the rough sounds of the Dutch language might sound not only difficult but straight-up scary. The hardest one to get right is the hard h sound, coming from the throat spelt as “g” or “ch” – for those who are not used to it, this sounds exactly like someone trying not to choke on a piece of delicious stroopwafel. It took me a while to get this one right and I still make mistakes; it requires lots of attention and concentration since it doesn’t come naturally to me. Still; as long as you vaguely know how to pronounce words and try your best, people around you will understand you and will be happy that you gave their language a go.

Practice, practice, practice

Of course, you cannot get good at anything without putting time and effort into it. If you want to improve fast, going to classes and doing your homework won’t be sufficient. This is the most common advice, but try to make an effort to use the language as much as possible; even doing your shopping and asking for assistance in Dutch will help you. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to use Dutch will help you gain confidence and you’ll probably also pick up a bunch of new words! In this case, the fact that the majority of Dutch people speak English at such a high standard is not a blessing but a curse since it will be much easier for you to just slip back into English. Ask your local friends to speak Dutch around you and try to participate in their conversations, even if you just listen first. The point is to be immersed in the language as much as possible; in the end, oefening baart kunst!

Have you already started learning Dutch, and if so, what has been your experience so far? Share your stories in a comment!

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